The PsyD or PhD in Psychology – Which is Right For You?

Graduate programs in psychology can be extremely competitive. In fact, just getting accepted by a good psychology program in and of itself can be quite challenging. Consequently, many students are more focused on getting into any program than they are on getting into the right program. They neglect to thoroughly explore and consider what degree program will best help them accomplish their career goals – and they settle for a graduate program that may not be optimal.

Students pursuing a graduate degree in psychology have the option of earning a Psy.D (Doctor of Psychology) or Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy). So which one is best? The answer is, it depends. Many students assume, erroneously, that one degree must be better than the other. However, determing which degree is best for you is a function of understanding your personal aspirations and career goals.

Career Goals
Most aspiring psychology students think near-term. They're so focused on getting into grad school that they neglect to think long-term. When pursuing a graduate degree in psychology, it's imperative to think long-term. Whether you should pursue a Ph.D or Psy.D will depend on what you plan on doing 6 or 7 years down the road when you graduate.

Most Ph.D programs are designed to prepare students to perform research or teach at the university level. On the other hand, the Psy.D is designed to prepare students to practice psychology in a direct patient care environment. Today there are Psy.D programs that provide students the opportunity to develop both clinical and research skills. However, even though some Psy.D programs offering research opportunities, they typically do not focus on research in enough depth to prepare students for a career in research.

So students really do need to consider what career path they're going to pursue, and why they want to earn a doctoral degree, before they start applying to grad schools. If you want to work in academia then you're best off pursuing a Ph.D program that offers a clear path in that direction. Likewise, if you're interested in becoming a psychology practitioner then find the appropriate Psy.D program.

So what if you're not set on a particular career path yet? Well, that's okay too. If you're just not sure which side of psychology you want to work in, but you're certain psychology is the field for you, then you should apply to a variety of Ph.D and Psy.D programs. When it comes time to select a program, choose the program where you feel there is a good fit.

Is the program Accredited?
There are a lot of good psychology graduate programs located throughout the United States, but not all programs are the same. When considering potential graduate programs, you'll want to make sure that the programs you apply to are regionally and/or APA Accredited. Pursuing a graduate degree from non-accredited institution may make it more difficult to qualify for internship opportunities, get a state license, and ultimately find a good job.

Accreditation ensures that the institution where you earn your psychology degree offers a quality program that meets industry standards. If a program isn't accredited you need to find out why. Sometimes a school will be in the process obtaining accreditation. While this is acceptable, you'll want to find out exactly where in the process they are and if their full accreditation status is likely to be achieved in the near future.

What else does the program offer?
While it's important to find either a Psy.D or Ph.D program that is in line with your personal and career goals, this in and of itself is an insufficient reason for selecting a graduate psychology program. You need to look a little deeper. Once you've narrowed your search down to either a Psy.D or Ph.D program, you need to find exactly what type of experience each program offers. If considering a Psy.D program, you'll want to discover what type of hands-on clinical experience the program offers. If you're considering a Ph.D, you'll want to scrutinize the research opportunities the program provides.

Take a look at their track record
There is one surefire way to find out how successful a graduate program really is, find out how successful their graduates are. If a program is really as good as it claims, then it should have a descent placement record. Find out what their placement rate is upon graduation and how successful its graduate are down the road. Also, find out what types of positions their graduates hold and which company's or organizations they work for.

Financial Considerations
We've already pointed out several differences between Ph.D and Psy.D programs. We'll here's another one. Did you know that on average Ph.D programs are quite a bit less expensive than Psy.D programs? While most Psy.D students graduate with a substantial loan burden, most Ph.D graduates have little, if any, loan burden upon graduation. There are several reasons why. First, many Psy.D programs are run by for-profit schools that charges students tuition. You may be thinking, "Ya, well don't all schools charge tuition?" No, they don't. Most Ph.D programs not only don't charge tuition, they offer students a generous stipends. How is this possible? Well, Ph.D programs usually receive grants in order to conduct their research. These grants are used to pay for research costs, including payments to students supporting the research. However, some Psy.D programs do offer financial benefits similar to those provided by Ph.D programs.

How to determine quality
The following are items you'll want to discover and consider when trying to determine the quality of psychology graduate program:
  • What is the programs student-to-faculty ratio? Most PhD and PsyD programs will have between 10 and 20 students. The student-to-faculty ratio is strong indicator of the quality of education that you can expect to receive as a student.
  • What is the graduation rate? A good program will have a descent graduation rate.
  • What percentage of students are able to find a good internship?
  • Does the program employ a large number of adjunct of part-time faculty? Programs with a large number of part-time or adjunct professors frequently offer less one-on-one time with students.
  • How well do students perform on industry exams such as the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP)?
  • How long have individual professors been teaching in the program? If a program has a high faculty turnover rate, this may be an indication that the quality of the program is relatively poor.
  • Is the program well established? How long as it been around
  • It's also a good idea to speak with current program students. Get their opinion on the quality of the program and the experience they're having.

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